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Knowing your customer (or potential customer)

CDW recently released the results of what it’s calling the 2008 CDW Small Business Driver’s Seat Study, which taps more deeply into the motivations of technology buyers. The data is provides a fascinating snapshot of how an executive’s personal comfort levels with technology might affect the strategy of his or her company. They also provide some intriguing demographic insights, which I’ll get to in a moment.

For grounding, CDW’s survey covered 555 small-business executives in companies with five to 99 employees. Of those, approximately 127 responses came from African American-owned firms, 117 responses were from Hispanic-owned businesses, 152 responses were from non-minority-owned companies, and 159 responses were from woman-owned organizations.

So, one of the first things that’s worth pointing out from the data is that minority-owned businesses with five to 19 employees were more likely to hire an IT professional than the broader community of small businesses. Another area where minority-owned businesses tended to be innovators or technology leaders was in business continuity or disaster recovery planning. About 35 percent of Hispanic owners with busineses in the five-to-19 employee range reported that they had a plan, compared with 23 percent of all other businesses. Among companies with 50 to 99 employees, 67 percent of African American owners had invested in a disaster recovery or business continuity strategy, compared with 50 percent of the Hispanic owners and 48 percent of all owners.

On the flip side, though, minority-owned companies were less likely to have a server or remote access capabilities. Here’s just one illustrative statistic: 56 percent of all owners with five to 19 employees said they have invested in one or more server, while only 46 percent of Hispanic-owned or 47 percent of African American-owned companies said the same thing.

Here are some stats that might make for selling ammunition when you’re considered new approaches for your small-business clients:

  • Small businesses that considered IT as a strategic investment generally recorded faster growth than the average. Close to 70 percent of owners who reported they felt this way about technology said they posted annual growth of more than 10 percent, compared with 36 percent of owners who were more conservative about technology.
  • Minority-owned companies have an edge over the average when it comes to thinking about technology as a business driver.
  • Only 29 percent of the respondents currently employ a dedicated IT professional.
  • More than one-quarter of the small businesses surveyed said they regret not taking full advantage of the technologies they already own. Sounds like a great services opportunity to me.
  • When asked where technology has had the most impact on their bottom line, the small-business owners sited marketing and customer relationship management functions more often than other tasks. Which makes for an interesting self-searching question for VARs and resellers out there reading this that haven’t looked at these sorts of things for their own companies. Another top area where technology had impacted the bottom line for respondents was production/project management.

And, finally, here are the top five priorities that the surveyed small-business owners planned to achieve in the next three years.

  1. Have a formal business continuity plan (47 percent of respondents)
  2. Have a data warehouse and business intelligence tools (42 percent)
  3. Acquire off-site data storage and back up (37 percent)
  4. Provide industry-specific applications for staff (37 percent)
  5. Support mobile computing devices (36 percent)

Long-time business journalist Heather Clancy is a strategic channel communications consultant with SWOT Management Group. She can be reached at

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